The coronavirus pandemic, with its constraints, social distance, numbers restrictions and cancelled flights, has left Portugal’s wedding sector in tatters with fears many companies may not survive.
Portugal has, in recent years, marketed itself not only as a popular honeymoon destination, but also one in which to have that dream wedding.
Just over two hours’ flying time from most European destinations, the warm, sunny climate, sun-drenched beaches, lovely boutique hotels, stunning coastal resorts, dramatic and varied inland scenery, and value-for-money stays make Portugal the perfect place to get hitched.
Yet, the many companies which plan that special day, attracting couples from all over Europe, are in trouble as people either cancelled their weddings in 2020 or plan to postpone them until the pandemic is well and truly past.
The first lockdown may have hit the sector hard, resulting in many wedding events postponed or rebooked, but the lifting of some restrictions in the summer did allow a few weddings to go ahead in the presence of some guests and family members.
Yet, since October, the many sub-segments that make up the business are at a total standstill and the prospects for the segment making it to the altar in the second quarter of this year is hardly a bouquet of roses, with many weddings booked for Easter now cancelled with Portugal’s second State of Emergency, while large festive gatherings have again been cancelled and perhaps to September.
“We know that the number of weddings has reduced over the past 40 or 50 years overall, but 2020 was the worst year ever, with more than 80% of weddings either cancelled or postponed,” says António Brito, CEO of Exponoivos, an annual weddings industry trade fair in Portugal.
“Of 35,000 weddings that had been organised annually over the past few years, numbers which until the pandemic had been increasing, 25,000 or more have been cancelled or postponed,” says Brito.
He says it is a situation that doesn’t look good in the near future, either. Asked if he thought there was still time this year to hold the 25,000 or so weddings that didn’t take place in 2020, he says: “there is still time, yes. It’s just that we don’t know from when.”
António Brito explains that with this high level of uncertainty, “panic has set in for the weddings sector”, and he urges couples planning to tie the knot not to cancel, but rather “wait a little longer”, perhaps two or three months, until the pandemic passes. But he admits it’s hard to pass on that message.
“We’ve already began to see some cancellations from April. The first quarter of the year is normally weak in terms of weddings, but from spring they build up until September, and this year we’re already seeing some reluctance from engaged couples that their wedding won’t go ahead, so they’re cancelling them,” Brito says, adding that he expects things are going to get worse for the segment until they get better.
Usually church weddings in Portugal take place on a Saturday, with the Spring and Summer months being most popular, but brides and grooms could choose other days and, from a logistics and organisational point of view, all is possible.
The big problem for the industry is, says António Brito, whether companies can hold out for another three, four or five months, and doesn’t hide the fact that “several businesses have had to close their doors” and “many more will do so”.
The weddings segment is very fragmented, with around 45 sub-segments which are suffering from very specific difficulties, but there is a common denominator: they can’t work and sell their services.
For example, many weddings in Portugal take place on stately home estates or “quintas” and have had to invest a lot of cash to meet Portuguese health regulations.
These wedding venues are now empty, with the companies that run them unable to make a return on that investment. The same goes for boutique hotels in picturesque areas which have been hit twice, both by a lack of tourists and events like weddings.
And the other factor is that since October, events could only have five people in attendance, and help from the government, apart from layoffs, has so far resulted in zero, concludes the CEO of Exponoivos.
More business news at www.essential-business.pt
By CHRIS GRAEME/Essential Business